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Demand management to drive change

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Demand management is the idea that by investing in mechanisms that reduce use of services (or increase payment of taxes), councils can attain their common goal of good services at lower cost.

I’m writing this column after speaking at an LGA workshop. It brought out different opinions on what demand management is.

Some thought it was about better communications or about designing ‘nudge’ into services - like cashpoints requiring you to take your card before you get your cash, so you don’t leave your card behind. Other suggestions included flexibility in service delivery, personalised services or service delivery through non-traditional routes.

You have probably spotted the common thread - demand management is about understanding citizens on a much deeper level than local government currently does.

The Obama get-out-the-vote campaign used detailed analysis and tracking to understand and target communications. By the start of 2012, according to the MIT Technology Review, the campaign knew the name of every one of the 69,456,897 Americans whose votes had put him in the White House.

That sounds like a big investment, but it’s worth remembering that the most labour-intensive part of this data analysis was the local presence and people to knock on doors - something where local government starts way ahead of Barack Obama. 

Demand management is not just about data, wording of letters, or which services are provided where. It’s about finding the dispersed knowledge about citizens and communities, and bringing it together in ways that those citizens and communities can trust and use. 

There are echoes of the Big Society here. If it is to be successful, demand management mustn’t share Big Society’s failings: the remoteness, the top-down politics, and the sense that it was a cynical cover for cuts. 

It’s easy to see big hurdles ahead. But there are examples of small-scale action already under way. Some councils are ready to take bigger steps.

Back at the workshop, a participant from Oldham summed up the day for me, when he said that Oldham called itself a co-operative borough, not a co-operative council, because everyone in the borough was meant to benefit from and contribute to the co-operation.

The same should be the aim for demand management.

Anthony Zacharzewski, founder, Democratic Society

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